Tuesday, May 09, 2023

By Gráinne Ní Aodha, PA

The Tánaiste has said he is disappointed with some criticisms of an independent group created to oversee changes within the Defence Forces, saying that they were not “fair”.

Micheál Martin was speaking in response to comments from the Women of Honour group, where they raised concerns about the involvement of the Department of Defence in the oversight group.

The membership of the board is based on a recommendation by the independent review group’s report that looked into the culture of equality and respect in the Defence Forces.

The damning IRG report detailed allegations of sexual misconduct, bullying and discrimination within the Irish military.

Among its recommendations were that an independent oversight body be established, whose membership should include the secretary general of the Department of Defence, a suggestion criticised by Women of Honour.

In a statement on Friday, the group said that for the sake of transparency and to win confidence, alternatives outside the Department of Defence “would be more appropriate”.

They said that the appointment must be vetted, and also raised concerns that Mr Martin could not separate himself from the role of Minister for Defence.

“We will be raising this with the Taoiseach and asking him to take the Department of Defence out of the liaison with victims, out of the establishment of the tribunal and out of the oversight board,” the group said.

“It is not appropriate, insensitive, and like having the fox in the chicken coop.”

Responding to these comments, Mr Martin said the appointment of the secretary general to the group was recommended by the IRG “with good reason”.

He added: “I don’t accept that. We’ve implemented the recommendation of the independent review group to the letter in respect of the external oversight group, and it’s a very strong group of people.

“It’s chaired by Brian MacCraith and has a broad range of disciplines on it of senior people.

“And the objective is to oversee the implementation of all the recommendations of the independent review group, to make sure that they’re delivered upon.

“I’m disappointed with some of the criticisms of the external oversight group.

“We moved quickly because we want to create momentum around the implementation of the independent review group.

“Very often ministers are criticised for not implementing recommendations more quickly, or taking too long to implement them. I’m very determined that we implement these recommendations, and that we move on and that we changed the culture within our Defence Forces in respect of the complaint system, and in respect of misogyny and sexual assault.

“So I’m very determined to do that. And I’m working with all the organisations. But I don’t believe that some of the criticisms in respect of the oversight group have been fair.

“I think the presence of the Secretary General on that was recommended for good reason, anybody with experience of the administration of government would know that if one wants to affect change within the Department of Defence and the Defence Forces there has to be a link between the external body and accountability then in respect of the delivery of the challenge and the delivery of the recommendations.

“That’s the objective, there’s nothing untoward about it and nor should anyone suggest that there is.”

The Government has pledged to set up a statutory inquiry into the allegations outlined in the report, with the aim of it being established before the Dail rises for the summer.

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